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Didier Drogba and Phoenix Rising visit the Swope Park Rangers

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Former Sporting KC man Amadou Dia will be back in Kansas City too.

Vancouver Whitecaps II v Phoenix Rising FC
Drogba making his USL debut.
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Swope Park Rangers vs Phoenix Rising FC (SPRvPHX)

Sunday, June 18th, 2017 at 4:00pm CT

How to Watch: YouTube.com/USL

Sunday will mark the first time that the Swope Park Rangers have ever hosted Phoenix Rising FC. Though it’s the first meeting in Kansas City, it’s not the first meetings between the clubs. They played a 4-3 thriller earlier this season in Tempe, Arizona that nearly ended with SPR coming all the way back from being down 4-0. Last season, when SPR was an expansion team, they traveled to Peoria to play to a 1-1 draw.

Though this is the first time that PRFC are coming to Missouri, it’s far from the first time for one member of their team. Amadou Dia, who was drafted by Sporting Kansas City in the first round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, just joined Phoenix last week after being out of football for a while with an injury. He made his debut last Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 and he stole the show. He was a defensive marvel breaking up attack after attack and even earning an assist. What is notable about him stealing the show is who he assisted.

On the end of the Dia cross that would result in the first goal of the game was the head of Didier Drogba, who was also making his debut in Phoenix. Drogba, the French football legend who has played all around the world including a run in the Premier League with Chelsea that saw him win four Premier League titles and who spent the last year and a half in MLS with the Montreal Impact, is a part owner of Phoenix Rising. To say Dia out shined him is saying something as Drogba had a goal and an assist in his USL debut.

Along with Dia and Drogba will come some other footballing legends like Shaun Wright-Phillips and former Sporting KC man Omar Bravo. Both have struggled to find their stride in Phoenix but look to be on an upturn with Drogba playing up top. SWP got his second goal of the season last week and Bravo looked to be in many more dangerous positions as Drogba distributed passes around the 18-yard box.

Despite all the offensive fire power for Phoenix, their defense has been lacking. Dia nearly led the defense to their first clean sheet in 19 straight matches across all competitions but they would come up short as Kody Wakasa would commit a foul in the box leading to a penalty kick that ruined the clean sheet. The run of non-shutouts has now extended to 20 games.

Something lost in all the Drogba news was that new head coach Patrice Carteron made his coaching debut in the same game that Drogba made his USL playing debut. Carteron replaced MLS veteran Frank Yallop, who recently resigned to spend time with his family in Northern California.

On the other end of the pitch will be a very young Swope Park Rangers team who will have to try their best not to be intimidated by all the experience Phoenix bring with them. That experience may have been what overwhelmed SPR in the clubs first meetings when they were quickly down 4-0. Two of those four goals were scored by Luke Rooney and Alessandro Riggi, both of whom are now injured. SPR did make it competitive after Kevin Oliveira was subbed on and would bag a brace which was quickly followed by a golazo by Christian Duke to nearly complete the comeback.

Swope Park have been very stout defensively lately not allowing more than a goal in five straight matches. Two of those games included playing against San Antonio FC, who have the second best record in the entire USL.

As of this writing SPR sit in the eight and final playoff spot in the West after the OKC Energy FC defeated Portland Timbers 2 earlier today. Phoenix sit tied with the Tulsa Roughnecks for ninth place.

Swope Park have been very stout at home in 2017 only losing one time (to the aforementioned SAFC) and picking up five wins (5-1-0). Things should only get better as their injury report from yesterday was blank. This will be welcome news to a team that has missed right back Colton Storm four a couple games and also hasn’t had Mark Anthony-Gonzalez at full health. MAG was a substitute in last weeks victory and he was the difference maker as he scored twice in stoppage time.

SPR have put out very different lineups from week to week so it’ll be intriguing to see who makes the start Sunday. It will obviously be somewhat dependent on who SKC needed to travel with them to San Jose today and therefore who can be loaned to the Rangers. My best guess at a Starting XI looks something like this:

Swope Park Rangers Starting XI

Obviously if Tyler Pasher or Amer Didic get loaned back to the club they could play. I haven’t been thrilled with Pasher at left back and I believe Maher is a much better option for defensive purposes. I would like to see Didic alongside Ballo like last season if he’s just going to sit on the bench with SKC. As for Zendejas, he tends to get the start when the club plays at home so I’d say that’s a distinct possibility.

As for up front, Cameron Iwasa did score his first goal last season and Anthony-Gonzalez is returning from injury, so he may be relegated to the super sub role he played as week. I honestly like Selbol as a super sub too but he has tended to start as of late. It’s always possible Robert Mirosavic gets another start as well.

In the midfield I would like to see Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal get some more time but James Musa appears to be the holding midfielder of choice right now. Kevin Oliveira should be returning from National Team duty with Cape Verde so hopefully he’s available. He did score twice the last time he played PRFC, so that would seem to be the most logical move. If not Kevin O then it could be the youngster Felipe Hernandez or veteran Lebo Moloto, who I believe looks a lot better in the midfield than he does in the false nine role he’s played a couple times this year.

Prediction: 2-1 Swope Park Rangers

Drogba just put in 90 minutes last week and he looked exhausted after that match. While I think Drogba traveling around USL playing and stirring up enthusiasm would be great, it also strikes me that he could rest on the road and just play in home games. He is 39-years-old and might want to save his best stuff for the home fans to help Phoenix Rising gain MLS expansion.

Swope Park are so good at home and Phoenix are a middle of the road team without Drogba. If he is in the lineup though, all bets are off.